After a dramatic week of back-and-forth between Taylor Swift, Scooter Braun, and Big Machine Records, Swift got the last laugh on Sunday night by winning six American Music Awards, including Artist Of The Year, Video Of The Year, and Artist Of The Decade, beating Michael Jackson as the most AMA-awarded artist of all time. In her performance medley, Swift sang a number of her old hits such as “Love Story,” “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “Blank Space,” and “Shake It Off,” despite previously announcing that her former record label, Big Machine, was trying to prevent her from doing just that. When it came time to accept the award for Artist Of The Decade, Swift resisted taking their public social media sparring to the stage, instead using her speech to preach the importance of being an artist. However, she might have hidden a message about the situation in her performance.
First, Swift gushed about Carole King, who presented her with the award and was a favorite of her parents, before turning to the fans.
“All the artists…all that anyone in this room wants is to create something that will last — whatever it is in life,” she said. “The fact that this is an award that celebrates a decade of hard work and of art and of fun and memories. All that matters to me is the memories that I have had with you guys, with you the fans, over the years...thank you for being the reason why I am on this stage.”
While Swift did not directly mention the battle on stage, she did, however, begin her performance with “The Man,” a song off her most recent album, Lover, about sexism and double standards. For Swift, that might just say it all.
“They'd say I hustled, put in the work / They wouldn’t shake their heads and question how much of this I deserve,” the lyrics in the second verse read. “What I was wearing, if I was rude / Could all be separated from my good ideas and power moves.”
The lyrics are apt despite being written before the Big Machine debacle, and follow several other notable industry battles Swift has fought. She long waged war against streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify for not fairly compensating artists, and successfully got Apple to pay royalties to artists even during its free three-month trial period in 2015.
Despite Swift’s insistence that she made these statements in defense of less powerful artists, they ended up contributing to the difficult, calculated reputation that’s been foisted upon her in recent years. Not long after, her 13-year reign stumbled due a public battle with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West in 2016 and her silence around the presidential election. This summer, her exit from her former record label backfired when it was purchased by Scooter Braun, who Swift accused of past bullying. In a social media post last week, the star claimed Braun, Big Machine, and CEO Scott Borchetta were preventing her from performing her older songs recorded under Big Machine at the AMAs, as well as using them in an upcoming Netflix documentary. Big Machine fired back denying the claims, and Braun made post of his own accusing Swift’s social media battle of feuling the death threats he says are being sent to him and his family.
“I’m right here, ready to speak directly and respectfully,” he ended his message on Instagram. “But if you would prefer to make large public statements while refusing to work towards resolving things amicably then I just pray that nobody gets seriously hurt in the process.”
A rep for Swift did not respond to Refinery29’s request for comment about the threats.
Yet Sunday night, Swift was declared the victor, a fitting representation of the endurance and rebirth preached in her current Lover era. Everything she could have said was best summed up by the trophy in her hands — and the five others waiting for her backstage.